Lately, I’ve had ample opportunity to bump into a few strangers. First traveling always provides a rush of strangers. You get the chance to stand in ticket lines, wait in plastic chairs, sit in restaurants when you don’t want to eat, stand in more ticket lines and finally take your assigned seat next to a veritable stranger that you will now share hours of your life story with – even if you don’t say a word. Color your Saturday on this given month in this given year and that stranger is forever etched into the picture. For those who read my regular blog or keep up with short tweeter feed comments, you know I recently experienced a few travel travails but what it showed me ultimately, more than anything in this world is that the obstacles and things that trip us up in life sometimes offer us the greatest opportunity to be there for other people. And I think a part of me hates it when that happens. Because it isn’t convenient and I’m not cheery. More like the Eeyore of prayer – oh, great – another stranger. I say that half-jokingly. Half mind you.
A most recent lovely experience traveling through the city of Atlanta left me turned around at well, every turn, as I tried to make it to signings and book club visit invitations on time. Once upon a time I had a droid phone that had the kickinest gps I’ve seen that would even tell me to remember to breathe between turns. But I took it back because I couldn’t quite figure out how to talk on it which was defeating part of the purpose for having the cell phone. So with only google maps and a general address I ventured forth – trying to find my way which resulted in me meeting lovely strangers who gave me directions all over the city. Strangers from sidewalks in neighborhoods, from car windows rolled down in traffic as they yelled across lanes, and one man in particular who was closing his independent little car shop where I wheeled in at high-speed, rolled the window down and yelled something that I think he could have understood in any language. It might have sounded something like HELP! He approached the window, considered my plight, the exact hour, my location, and took careful steps to get me where I needed to go the fastest route possible from my current position. Then he said, “Wait – what do you do?” I’m late. I should be standing in front of people talking books but this is where I am, reving the jeep in front of this stranger ready to yell thanks and leave him in a cloud of dust. Forget about the droid. I breathe anyway. I offer my name, my hand, a postcard on the new novel Mercy Land, and a brochure on the new Praying for Strangers book. Connections with strangers. They happen. Usually, sometimes, when we least expect it. When its least convientient. But I made it to the bookstore, had a lovely event, and remembered William in my prayers before I fell asleep.
People ask me how I find strangers sometime, how do I choose. Oh, I think sometimes they find me. Sometimes by the masses in transit, sometimes by one dark-eyed man in a parking lot trying to help me stay on the right path. One things for certain, the world isn’t an empty nest and the strangers that move through this life with us will find us. It’s up to us how we will receive them.